Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bike Vacation: Rent or Your Own Ride

Like a backpack stitched with cloth patches from Amsterdam and Canada and suitcases covered in stickers from Paris and Rome, a bike that’s been to far away lands becomes a better bike. However, I’d never put a sticker on my bike. Those go on the toolbox, roof rack or workstand. I’ve rented bikes in the Florida Keys, Maui, Breckenridge and Whistler, but shipped my Niner Air 9 to Park City. The few times we’ve been to Park City it’s always been around Labor Day, when the good rentals are being sold off, leaving nothing but dusty dirty beaters for the end of season traveler.

If I had my way, I’d ship my bike on every vacation. Nothing beats the familiarity and trust of having your own ride on unfamiliar ground. Plus a bike that’s tackled everything from Pisgah to Slickrock is more of a trusted friend than only a bike. Vacations are much better with your best friend. Still, sometimes it makes more financial sense to rent a friend. The key is finding a good friend.

Tell Me There's Not An Alien In There
I’ve never flown with my bike. I’ve always been shocked at the prices airlines charge to bring a bike along as luggage, only to marvel at the giant golf club bags stuffed with everything but illegal immigrants being checked for free. Consequently, I’ve always shipped it, usually FedEx, in a regular cardboard bike box gleened from a local shop. Make sure you get all the packaging material with the box. Shipping via FedEx ground takes about 3-5 business days to anywhere in the lower 48, and usually runs about $100-$125 for a mountain bike each way with insurance. I usually ship the bikes to a bike shop in the city I’m visiting. I’ve considered shipping to the home of a friend, precisely why it’s always good to stay in touch with your friends that have moved out of town. You never know when that Facebook friend in Denver or Scotland will come in handy.
Here’s some things to consider when deciding whether to bring your own bike on vacation or rent from a local shop.

Fav Travel Shop: A Races Edge in Breckenridge
The Local Shop:
Find a shop you like before you travel. Ask your friends. Call around. Yes, talk to them. Besides, finding out what types of bikes they have and how well they’re spec’d, you’ll know right off the bat if they take time with you on the phone or blow you off as quickly as possible. While the rental sheet may say hardtails are only $35/day, one shop may have Diamondback beaters with low level components while the guys down the street have brand new Santa Cruz Blurs with XT. In Breckenridge one year, my wife and I were able to find race-level demo bikes from Litespeed and Rocky Mountain equipped with XTR, a total score. Moreover, you want to call and talk to them. Find out who’s friendly, which shop heads up the local Wednesday night group ride, who will go the extra mile to show you the trails and which one will help fit you properly on your rental. They key is to find a shop that you can call home while away from home. If you decide to ship your bike to the shop, tell them that you’re a good customer. Let them know, even though you’re not renting from them that you’ll definitely shop their store while you’re in town.

Fav Travel Shop: Maui Cycles Lahaina
Time of Year
The best time to rent is after Memorial Day, the rental fleets are new and the selection is high. Conversely, the worst time to rent is the week of or after Labor Day when the rentals are being sold off and you’ll be left to choose between a tiny 15 inch mountain bike or a skyscraper 60cm road bike. However the bonus of traveling around Labor Day is that many of the mountain town bike shops have huge sales as they try to sell off their inventory before ski season.

Search the internet for races and rides where you are staying. You’ll have a tough time finding a quality rental when the Ironman comes to Kona or when the Peaks Challenge is in Park City.

Fav Travel Shop: Owner Mary at Bike Barn in Phoenix
How Much Riding are you doing: I’m an avid cyclist, but you have to be real about how much time you’ll be on the bike. If you travel Saturday to Saturday, right off the bat you won’t be riding on Saturdays, leaving you six days to ride. If you’re traveling to someplace with elevation, you likely wont be riding very far on Sunday until you get adjusted to the altitude. Ask yourself, will I really ride six days? Maybe you’d like to hike once or twice, go rafting, or spend a day at the pool. More often than not, I find that I really only ride 4-5 times while on vacation. Considering a good high end rental will cost $45-55 for 24 hours, you might be better off renting. If you rent after 1pm, you can ride in the afternoon that day, wake up early, and get a 2nd ride in on the same rental the following morning. Essentially, you can eek two long rides out of a one day rental. Brilliant!

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